Pink Sari Revolution, a retelling of the true story of Sampat Pal and the Gulabi Gang, arrives at West Yorkshire Playhouse this month in a co-production with Belgrade Theatre Coventry and Curve.
Newly adapted for the stage by Purva Naresh, the play tells the recent story of the Gulabi Gang; a group of female activists who are re-establishing women’s rights in North India. Wearing vibrant pink saris and defending themselves with bamboo canes, the group are a fearless army led by Sampat Pal; a tenacious and relentless crusader determined to seek justice for women subjected to abuse.
When teenage girl Sheelu is believed to have been raped by an eminent politician, Sampat Pal campaigns to have the offender brought to justice. Despite the nature of the abuse, Pal encounters barriers to his conviction at almost every level, including an odd resistance from the victim herself…
Purva Naresh’s theatrical adaptation from the book by Amana Fontanelle-Khan presents North India as a world steeped in male-dominated corruption and political decadence. Sampat Pal arrives as a reactive flash of eccentric, defiant colour amid uniformed officials and cowardly conspirators. She is a flag-waving, foul-mouthed and heroic revolutionary determined to change the lives of women across India.
But this isn’t a clear-cut world of good or bad, as Naresh’s script offers a landscape with unbiased complexity; a mosaic of characters which defy expectations, such as a brave prison guard who is a sympathetic supporter of Pal’s progressive ideals. We’re also introduced to a cold female Doctor, who goes to great lengths to explain her reason as to why she rejected the request to inspect and support a rape victim. Naresh’s writing goes beyond a retelling of a rebellion or assault case, expanding the issue to explore the intricacies of Indian liberties and the sociopolitical blockades which prevent characters from doing what many take for granted: the freedom to do the right thing.
Sampat Pal is realised on stage in a full-throttle, unfettered performance from Syreeta Kumar, who combines authority and aggression with gutsy compassion. Pal is presented as a difficult yet brilliant character; tenacious, almost bullying, in her methods to secure justice. Kumar’s multidimensional performance ensures that the character’s motivation is often brought into question, allowing for some fascinating exploration into the power of activism and cult of celebrity. Supported by powerful performances from Ulrika Krishnamurti as Sheelu and a steely, absorbing study of Dr Bhavna from Goldy Notay, Pink Sari Revolution provides a vista of characterisation with a relatively small, yet brilliantly talented cast of artists.
Suba Das directs a Cinerama epic within a medium-sized space, ensuring scale and scope are wholly defined throughout the production. Scenes are crosscut quickly in a filmic style and dialect is delivered with a rapid, almost indecipherable naturalism, lending a documentary-style edge to scenes. Das also secures some much-needed levity between heavier, brutal moments, ensuring the story remains digestible and optimistic in its tone and future vision.
Stylish and beautiful production design, coupled with skilful yet unobtrusive lighting patterns, provides a very visual quality to the piece. Combined with Aakash Odera’s movement direction and Tim Lutkin’s superb side lighting techniques (lending itself to dance), Pink Sari Revolution almost has a balletic quality to its storytelling, particularly during the impressive pink sari protest movement.
Following Nick Ahad’s revelatory Partition and (The Fall of) The Master Builder within one season at the Playhouse, Pink Sari Revolution builds upon the complex themes of cultural identity, social barriers and, most importantly, the cathartic exposure of corruption. A topical analysis on countering the abuse of power, Pink Sari Revolution is a complex and urgent study of human relationships and social responsibilities; prescient theatre which refuses to waver from its focus that an offender’s shame alone, is not near enough justice for the victim.
A remarkable story retold with vivid direction and indelible production values, this is a Technicolour protest offering startling depth in its analysis of an ongoing story, which is far from being concluded.
Cast: Syreeta Kumar, Gurkiran Kaur, Munir Khairdin, Ulrika Krishnamurti, Goldy Notay, Ronak Patani, Sharan Phull. Director: Suba Das Writer: Purva Naresh Theatre: West Yorkshire Playhouse Duration: 130 minutes Dates: Tuesday 7th to Saturday 11th November 2017.